With former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida making his debut on the middleweight rankings at number five following his impressive first round knockout of Mark Munoz at last weekend’s UFC Fight Night 30, the division added a hugely talented challenger that could arguably be ranked much higher.
But with so much talent populating the top of the UFC 185-pound arena, there’s not much room to budge. With that said, does “The Dragon’s” emergence make middleweight the most talented division in the UFC?
That’s a tough question. Middleweight does have an absolute murderer’s row populating the top five right now. Champion Chris Weidman just came off a knockout of arguably the greatest fighter of all time in Anderson Silva; the two will have their much-awaited rematch at UFC 168 on December 28. Since number three-ranked Vitor Belfort only wants to cut down to middleweight for a shot at the belt, “The Phenom” is facing Dan Henderson at light heavyweight in the main event of next week’s UFC Fight Night 32.
Belfort has been mowing down competition left and right this year, knocking out both number four Michael Bisping and number six Luke Rockhold with headkicks. The cloud of TRT still hangs over Belfort’s head, however, and it’s unknown when he’ll ever be licensed to fight in the United States again, if ever.
Number three-ranked Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is the most under-the-radar member of the middleweight top five despite going undefeated in the Octagon. The former Strikeforce middleweight champ earned Yushin Okami his walking papers with a first round knockout at UFC Fight Night 28. The Brazilian Jiu-jitsu world champion presents a serious threat to any top middleweight.
Welterweight has an excellent top five comprised of champion Georges St. Pierre, Johny Hendricks, Carlos Condit, and Rory MacDonald. Rising contenders Robbie Lawler could make huge statements in their upcoming bouts against MacDonald and Condit, respectively.
Lightweight looks incredible with champion Anthony Pettis, Ben Henderson, Gilbert Melendez, T.J. Grant, and title challenger Josh Thomson. Gray Maynard and Khabib Nurmagomedov add even more depth to 155-pounds. And who can forget the warrior spirit of Diego Sanchez residing just outside of the top ten. There’s a ton of great lightweight bouts on the horizon.
Featherweight can’t be forgotten either. With a ton of interesting matchups set to take place in the near future, fighters like Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, Ricardo Lamas, and Cub Swanson make a strong case for 145-pounds being the strongest division in terms of talent. Chan Sung Jung will be returning from injury sometime next year, and former champion B.J. Penn will make his debut at 145-pounds after coaching opposite Edgar on TUF 19.
Problem is, featherweight doesn’t get the crowd excited like middleweight does. Silva vs. Weidman was electric; the rematch could be even bigger. Belfort has been doing nothing but doling out highlight reel knockouts, controversial or not. “Jacare” remains one of the most dangerous men of all MMA, and always looks for the finish. Machida had undergone a ton of criticism for the passive style he exhibited in his last bouts at light heavyweight, but he looks like he has a ton of power at middleweight.
“The Dragon” just infused the middleweight division with another power player, and it already had some great ones. The next year should hold some incredibly exciting fights at 185-pounds as the future of the title situation gets solved.
Silva may or may not be sticking around for too much longer. He has nine fights left on his contract, but how many he actually takes place in remains to be seen. Machida recently stated that he wants to fight Belfort next – and that would be an awesome matchup of power strikers. “Jacare” may be the odd man out, so perhaps he’ll be fighting Bisping upon “The Count’s” return from eye surgery.
All told, the middleweight division just became the best in MMA this past Saturday. It’s close, but the top five at 185 just can’t be denied. Chris Weidman is an awesome champion who absolutely has his work cut out for him. What is your pick for best division in the UFC, and what fights are you looking forward to most?
Outer Photo: Jason Silva for USA TODAY Sports